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8:59 am
Sun June 9, 2013

Can't Stop The Beat: Three New Caribbean Artists Making Waves

Originally published on Sun June 9, 2013 11:58 am

If there is a musical lesson history has taught us, it's that you cannot stop a beat. People can be imprisoned, movements can be disbanded, but music — and the ideas embedded in it — will always find a way.

The Afro-Caribbean style known as calypso is a great example. The Canboulay Riots of 1881 — a boiling-over of tensions between Trinidadians and British authorities — led to the banning of African percussion and stick fighting, which were traditional of that region's Carnaval. Folks started using bamboo sticks for percussion, but in time that, too, was banned. Eventually, people started using frying pans, dustbin lids and oil drums. Hence was born the steel pan drum style for which calypso is known today. Political independence took much longer, but the concept is the same: The beat of a drum, like the pulse of a people, cannot be banned.

This week, Alt.Latino stops by Weekend Edition Sunday to share music by some powerful Caribbean female vocalists. Danay Suarez represents Cuba's burgeoning young hip-hop scene, which is rebellious and irrepressible; Puerto Rican Raquel Sofia is independent in her song about leaving a toxic love behind; and Venezuela's Sol Okarina pays homage to calypso.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's time for another musical chat with Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd of NPR Music's Alt.Latino.

Hi, guys.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Hey.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Hey, good to be back.

CONTRERAS: Good morning.

GARSD: You can't get rid of us.

MARTIN: So happy to see you, I don't want to get rid of you.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So I understand that you have brought for us today three female vocalists.

CONTRERAS: Well, we both really love all of these musicians who are doing things like mixing tradition with electronica and hip-hop and all that stuff. But, you know, we were just thinking that it always comes down to the voice being the most spectacular instrument. So what we did was we found three vocalists that we had on our shows recently; have different styles, different approaches and that's what we're going to do.

The first up?

GARSD: Danay Suarez from Cuba. We kind of feel like she's a legend in the making. They call her the Lauryn Hill of Cuba. This is "Siempre Que Llueve" or "Whenever It Rains."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIEMPRE QUE LLUEVE")

DANAY SUAREZ: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: So she started in rap and then in 2008 got involved with something called Havana Cultura, which is like a showcase of all the artists in Havana. And she released a wonderful album with Latin jazz and traditional Cuban music and hip-hop. And now she's currently touring the U.S. before going back to Cuba.

MARTIN: Very cool. OK, Felix, who is up next?

CONTRERAS: OK, we have an honest-to-goodness find, like a diamond in the rough. OK?

MARTIN: Really?

CONTRERAS: One of those kind of singers that you can have bragging rights later on, say, oh, yeah, I knew her before her first album even came out.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: Raquel Sofia is from Puerto Rico but she went to music school in Miami. So she's a trained musician. Which is doing now is she's a backup singer for Juanes, the great...

MARTIN: Oh, wow.

CONTRERAS: ...Colombian superstar.

MARTIN: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: She's in his band. Someone sent me a link to her SoundCloud page and there are three tracks there. So she doesn't even have an album out yet, and we just were knocked out by it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ME IMPORTAS")

RAQUEL SOFIA: (Singing in Spanish)

MARTIN: I dig it. She's got good texture in there.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, absolutely, and what also intrigued us about the song are the lyrics, you know. She's...

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: She's basically like, you know what? You don't even matter to me anymore, dude. You know, I've moved on. You know? And so, it's a very strong, independent...

GARSD: How many times a week do you say that to me?

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, it's...

MARTIN: Well, I like it. I like it - strong, feminine sounds, strong feminine messages.

CONTRERAS: And the three tracks on her SoundCloud page are like there's a samba, there's a ballad. So there's different aspects to her. I'm really interested to see what she does when she records an album when she comes off the road with Juanes in the fall.

MARTIN: OK, Jasmine, who else?

GARSD: Next up, let's go to "Calypso Town." This is Venezuelan singer Sol Okarina. The song is called "Calypso Town."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALYPSO TOWN")

SOL OKARINA: (Singing in Spanish) Calypso town...

MARTIN: So if you're going to name the song "Calypso Town," I guess you're going to play some calypso, right?

GARSD: Sure and she is from Guyana, Venezuela. She's based in Colombia and she blends a lot of elements of, well, Venezuelan calypso, indie rock, cumbia, a lot of Caribbean sounds.

CONTRERAS: And that brings up an interesting conversation we had because I'm convinced that Venezuela is part of South America and not the Caribbean.

GARSD: Are you prepared for all the letters from the Venezuelans that you're going to...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, it wouldn't even occur to me that Venezuela would be part of the Caribbean.

GARSD: Yeah. Well, I was recently speaking to the lead singer from La Vida Boheme.

CONTRERAS: A Venezuelan band.

GARSD: A Venezuelan band and I asked him about Venezuelan identity. And he told me he feels very Caribbean.

CONTRERAS: Well, I can understand that relationship with the Caribbean because Venezuela, Colombia, they both have coasts on the Caribbean. And so that musical influence came in, along with the Pacific side in Colombia with the African influence - all that African diaspora music gets mixed up in those cultures along with indigenous cultures - just makes this amazing musical melting pot.

MARTIN: And I mean the Caribbean is also a state of mind, right?

CONTRERAS: Right.

GARSD: That's - sure. Yes.

CONTRERAS: There you go.

MARTIN: A little bit of Caribbean in all of us.

GARSD: And which I always am.

CONTRERAS: We're there now.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: NPR Alt.Latino hosts, Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. Thanks so much, you guys.

CONTRERAS: Oh, thank you.

GARSD: Always so much fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALYPSO TOWN")

OKARINA: (Singing) Every night, I have you by my side...

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALYPSO TOWN")

OKARINA: (Singing) Every night, I have you by my side. Every day, I have you in my mind... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.